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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. March 18, 1907

British Protection or Self-Protection

There are two superstitions which have driven such deep root into the mind of our people that even where the new spirit is strongest, they still hold their own. One is the habit of appealing to British courts of justice; the other is the reliance upon the British executive for our protection. The frequent recurrence of incidents such as the Mymensingh and Comilla disturbances will have its use if it drives into our minds the truth that in the struggle we have begun we cannot and ought not to expect protection from our natural adversaries. It is perfectly true that one of the main preoccupations of the executive mind has been the maintenance of order and quiet in the country, because a certain kind of tranquillity was essential to the preservation of an alien bureaucratic control. This was the secret of the barbarous system of punishments which make the Indian Penal Code a triumph of civilised savagery; of the license1 and the blind support allowed by the Magistracy to a phenomenally corrupt and oppressive Police; of the doctrine of no conviction no promotion, which is the gospel of the Anglo-Indian executive, holding it better that a hundred innocent should suffer than one crime be recorded as unpunished. This was the reason of the severity with which turbulent offences have always been repressed, of the iniquitous and oppressive system of punitive Police and of the undeclared but well-understood Police rule that any villager of strong physique, skill with weapons and active habits should be entered in the list of bad characters. By a rigid application of these principles the bureaucracy have succeeded in creating the kind of tranquillity they require. The Romans created a desert and called the result peace; the British in India have destroyed the spirit and manhood of the people and call the result law and order. It is true, on the other hand, that there have been exceptions to the promptness and severity with which turbulence of any kind is usually dealt with; and the most notable is the supineness and dilatoriness, habitually shown by the authorities, in dealing with outbreaks of Mahomedan fanaticism and the gingerly fashion in which repression in such cases is enforced. Fear is undoubtedly at the root of this weakness. The bureaucracy are never tired of impressing the irresistible might of British supremacy on the subject populations, but in their own hearts they are aware that that supremacy is insecure and without root in the soil; the general upheaval of any deep-seated and elemental passion in the hearts of the people might easily shatter that supremacy as so many others have been shattered before it. The one passion which in past times has been proved capable of so upheaving the national consciousness in India is religious feeling; and outraged religious feeling is therefore the one thing which the bureaucracy dreads and the slightest sign of which turns their courage into nervousness or panic and their strength into paralysed weakness. The alarm which the Swadeshi movement created was due to this abiding terror; for in the Swadeshi movement, for the first time patriotism became a national religion, the name of the motherland was invested with divine sacredness and her service espoused with religious fervour and enthusiasm. In its alarm Anglo-India turned for help to that turbulent Mahomedan fanaticism which they had so dreaded; hoping to drive out poison by poison, they menaced the insurgent religion of patriotism with the arming of Mahomedan prejudices against what its enemies declared to be an essentially Hindu movement. The first fruits of this policy we have seen at Mymensingh, Serajgunge and Comilla. It was a desperate and dangerous, and might easily prove a fatal, expedient; but with panic-stricken men the fear of the lesser danger is easily swallowed in the terror of the greater.

It should not therefore be difficult to see that the demand for official protection in such affairs as the Comilla riots is as unpractical as it is illogical. The object of modern civilised Governments in preserving tranquillity is to protect the citizen not only in the peaceful pursuit of his legitimate occupations but in the public activities and ambitions natural to a free people; the Government exists for the citizen, not the citizen for the Government. But the bureaucracy in India is only half-modern and semi-civilised. In India the individual, for there is no citizen, exists for the Government; and the object in preserving tranquillity is not the protection of the citizen but the security of the Government. The security of the individual, such as it is, is only a result and not an object. But the security of the Government, if by Government we understand the present irresponsible bureaucratic control, is directly threatened by the Swadeshi movement; for the declared object of that movement is Swaraj, which means the entire elimination of that control. To ask the bureaucracy, therefore, to protect us in our struggle for Swaraj is to ask it to assist in its own destruction.

This plain truth is obviously recognised by the officials of the Shillong Government. The attitude taken up by the Magistrates of Mymensingh and Comilla was identically the same; they saw no necessity for interfering; the Hindus by their Swadeshi agitation had brought the Mahomedan storm upon themselves and must take the consequences. The unexpressed inference is plain enough. The bureaucratic “constitution”, under which we are asked to carry on “constitutional” Government, assures us British peace and security only so long as we are not Swadeshi. The moment we become Swadeshi, British peace and security, so far as we are concerned, automatically come to an end, and we are liable to have our heads broken, our men assaulted, our women insulted and our property plundered without there being any call for British authority to interfere. The same logic underlies the imputation of the responsibility for the riot to Babu Bepin2 Chandra Pal's inflammatory eloquence, which was made, we believe, in both instances and in this last has received the support of the loyalist press. Whom or what did Bepin3 Babu inflame? Not the Mahomedans to attack the Hindus certainly, that would be too preposterous a statement for even an Anglo-Indian Magistrate to make, but all Indians, Hindus and Mahomedans alike, to work enthusiastically for Swadeshi and Swaraj. By raising the cry of Swadeshi and Swaraj, then, we forfeit the protection of the law.

Stated so nakedly, the reasoning sounds absurd; but, in the light of certain practical considerations we can perfectly appreciate the standpoint of these bureaucrats. Arguing as philosophers, they would be wrong; but arguing as bureaucrats and rulers of a subject people, their position is practical and logical. The establishment of Swaraj means the elimination of the British bureaucrat. Can we ask the British bureaucrat to make it safe and easy for us to eliminate him? Swadeshi is a direct attack on that exploitation of India by the British merchant which is the first and principal reason of the obstinate maintenance of bureaucratic control. The trade came to India as the pioneer of the flag; and the bureaucrat may reasonably fear that if the trade is driven out, the flag will leave in the wake of the trade. With that fear in his mind, even apart from his natural racial sympathies, can we ask him to facilitate the expulsion of the trade? On the contrary, the official representative of the British shop-keeper is morally bound, be he Viceroy, Lieutenant-Governor, Secretary of State or be he a mere common District Magistrate, to put down Swadeshi by the best means in his power. Sir Bampfylde thought violence and intimidation, Gurkha Police and Regulation lathis the very best means; Mr. Morley believes Swadeshi can be more easily smothered with soft pillows than banged to death with a hard cudgel. The means differ; the end is the same. At present the bureaucracy have two strings to their bow general Morleyism with the aid of the loyalist Mehtaite element among the Parsis and Hindus; and occasional Fullerism with the aid of the Salimullahi Party among the Mahomedans. With the growth of the new spirit and the disappearance of a few antiquated but still commanding personalities, the former will lose its natural support and the latter will be left in possession of the field. But we know by this time that Salimullahism means a repetition of the outbreaks of Mymensingh, Serajgunge and Comilla, and the attitude of the Comilla heaven-born will be the attitude of most heaven-borns wherever these outbreaks recur. It is urgently necessary therefore that we should shake off the superstitious habit of praying for protection to the British authorities and look for help to the only true, political divinity, the national strength which is within ourselves. If we are to do this effectually, we must organise physical education all over the country and train up the rising generation not only in the moral strength and courage for which Swadeshism has given us the materials, but in physical strength and courage and the habit of rising immediately and boldly to the height of even the greatest emergency. That strength we must train in every citizen of the newly-created nation so that for our private protection we may not be at the mercy of a Police efficient only for harassment, whose appearance on the scene after a crime means only a fresh and worse calamity to the peaceful householder; but each household may be a protection to itself and when help is needed, be able to count on its neighbour. And the strength of the individuals we must carefully organise for purposes of national defence, so that there may be no further fear of Comilla tumults or official Gurkha riots disturbing our steady and rapid advance to national freedom. It is high time we abandoned the fat and comfortable selfish middle-class training we give to our youth and make a nearer approach to the physical and moral education of our old Kshatriyas or the Japanese Samurai.


Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 18901908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.

1 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: licence


2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin


3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin